||NOTE: Weather permitting, we'll follow thru with this hike. But with recent winter storms and rainfalls, we'll have to cancel if it's raining out in the Ocotillo area on this day. Check weather forcasts 24 hrs. before the hike. It may be sprinkling in San Diego, but sunny in the desert. And, as usual, we require each hiker to bring their own appropriate hiking gear, food, and sports drinks. Be sure to do your "carb loading" before the hike by eating a good meal/healthy snack and drinking liquids, avoiding dehydration and fatigue. And if you leave the hike early, notify the hike leader directly, so there's no question that you may have gotten lost or injured along the way. Remember... Safety first.
Our first stop will be at the Desert View Tower, just off the I-8 freeway in Jacumba. Take I-8 East, about 90 minutes from San Diego, to the In-Ko-Pah Park Road offramp. Turn left under the freeway, and right on the old highway, which ends at the tower. The owner (and one of our members), Ben Schultz, has invited all hikers to stop by the Desert View Tower on the way to/from Anza Borrego Desert State Park. From the top of the tower there's a stunning panoramic view of the desert which stretches below to the east and north. (Offer Ben your gratitude and support with a purchase of a snack, memento, etc. from the Tower.) After our visit to the Tower, we'll head on down I-8 to Ocotillo. From there, we'll head a few miles north to Fossil Canyon for our hike.
Fossil/Shell Canyon is about 2-3 miles north of Ocotillo, with a paved road to within 1 mile, then graded to the parking area. This canyon is famous for its geology and 50,000,000 year-old fossils. You can walk back into the canyon about 2 miles and the elevation gain is about 500 feet.
The canyon is quite easy to get to and is close to the freeway. (It looks like we will have to walk the last half-mile of the road since it is a bit rocky. There is very little parking at the road end anyway.) Here are driving directions for the hike at Fossil Canyon (aka Shell Canyon): Take I-8 east to the Highway S-2 exit at Ocotillo. It is also marked as the "desert parks" exit (where S2 heads northward into the southern region of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park). Turn left under the freeway and continue through the quaint little desert community of Ocotillo, and around the sharp curve east of town. About one mile from the freeway there is a stop sign at Shell Canyon Road. Turn right. The road leads about 2-3 miles toward the mountains. Continue on Shell Canyon Road until the graded road turns into a dirt road that leads into Fossil Canyon (also known as Shell Canyon or Alverson Canyon). Just after you cross under the large power lines, look for a large, blank sign on the right where a dirt road leaves the pavement. Take the dirt road, but only a couple hundred feet to where there is plenty of parking.
At first glance no shell or coral fossils are visible, unlike the abundance of oyster shell fossils in the Yuha Basin. But upon a closer look at the canyon walls, you'll see shell fossils embedded in the sandstone. Layers of sandstone and mudstone are exposed, revealing veins composed of white shell fossils and coral pieces, each representing part of the 50-million year geologic history contained within the canyon walls.
In 1916, a study called "The Reef-Coral Fauna of Carrizo Creek Imperial County, California, and Its Significance" was published by Thomas Wayland Vaughn. The study was based on fossils found in Fossil Canyon by Dr. Stephen Bowers which he had sent to Washington for identification. The study revealed that "The Carrizo Creek reef-coral fauna is Atlantic, not Pacific, in its affinities." During Eocene and Oligocene time the Atlantic and Pacific were connected by a passage way somewhere in the region of Central America. After the passage closed, the Atlantic coral left in the Pacific became extinct. The fossil remains found in Carrizo Mountain are the only evidence that this coral once existed in the Pacific.